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Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No. 4 ‘Romantic’ (version 1878/80, edited Robert Haas)
Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden/Christian Thielemann
rec. live 17th May 2015 Semperoper, Dresden, Germany
Edition Staatskapelle Dresden – Volume 42
PROFIL PH16064 [73.06]

This Profil release, volume 42 in the Edition Staatskapelle Dresden series, consists of a broadcast recording of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 4Romantic’. In May 2015 I attended this particular concert at Semperoper, Dresden. The combination of Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony together with a selection of Wagner and Schubert opera arias sung by Christian Gerhaher was a most enticing prospect especially when performed by the Staatskapelle Dresden. In this repertoire seeing Christian Thielemann eagerly mount the podium was a reassuring sight with the audience guaranteed a resolute, no-nonsense approach. Unfortunately this particular album does not include Gerhaher’s memorable performance of the opera arias.

The Bruckner tradition cultivated by the Staatskapelle Dresden is a long and distinguished one. In December 1885 the orchestra first performance of a Bruckner symphony was the Third in Dresden under Ernst von Schuch. Then in November 1895 the orchestra first performed the Fourth Symphony under Adolf Hagen. It was with the Fourth Symphony that Fritz Busch gave his last Dresden concert in February 1933 before fleeing into exile from the Nazi regime. Karl Böhm gave the première of the “original version” of the Fourth at Dresden in October 1936, part of the recently published Bruckner Complete Edition. During the years 1945-49 Joseph Keilberth is thought to be the first to conduct the entire cycle of Bruckner symphonies in their original versions. With the Staatskapelle Dresden a number of conductors have all released acclaimed Bruckner recordings including: Eugen Jochum, George Szell, Otmar Suitner, Giuseppe Sinopoli, Herbert Blomstedt, Bernard Haitink, Fabio Luisi and more recently Yannick Nézet-Séguin. The Bruckner tradition continues to go from strength to strength at Dresden and principal conductor Christian Thielemann is working his way through the complete cycle of symphonies.

Known as the ‘Romantic’ Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony was written in 1874 and revised a number of times through to 1888. One of the composer’s most performed and recorded symphonies, the Fourth is the only one to which he appended a title. Maestro Manfred Honeck in 2013 stated that he believed that the Fourth Symphony was “almost a tone-poem in the robe of a symphony.” More than any other of Bruckner’s works the Fourth has been subject to wholesale revisions at various times appearing in various editions which is almost a subject in itself. Here on this Profil recording Thielemann is using the orchestra’s customary “original version” of 1878/1880 edited by Robert Haas described in the notes by Tobias Niederschlag as “largely cleansed of extraneous emendation as part of the first critical edition of his complete works by Robert Hass.”

Sounding stunning in the marvellous Semperoper acoustic I relish every second of this captivating Thielemann performance that achieves such an elevated standard of performance. It’s not long before the sheer force of the symphonic power generated by the Staatskapelle almost pins me back in the seat. Thielemann’s decisive grip of structure is majestically assured, the textures feel ideally layered and impressive too is how the orchestra builds and sustains its crescendos. But Thielemann knows it’s not all about raw energy delivering outstanding subtlety in the contrasting episodes of nature music. On the surface the Adagio conveys all the satisfying calmness of a gentle Tyrolean stroll, evoking verdant pastures and ice-cold streams but Thielemann is able to develop an often elusive, tension-laden undertow. The great climax is accomplished magnificently without any sense of strain. Tuned to perfection, the Dresden brass in the Scherzo blaze boldly to stunning effect; I doubt the heavily engaged trumpets and horns have ever sounded better. One can feel the adrenaline being generated with a tumultuous weight of sound as Thielemann is able to drive the Staatskapelle hard in a way that lesser orchestras would fold. Bold, decisive and determined Thielemann presides over a magnificently inspiring Bruckner performance of an unquestionably enduring quality.

There are several recordings in the catalogue of Bruckner’s Fourth deserving of special praise. My benchmark recording has been the live 1998 Berlin account from Günter Wand with the Berliner Philharmoniker on RCA Red Seal. Wand uses the 1878/1880 version edited Haas which according to music writer Wolfgang Seifert was the only version of the work the maestro ever conducted. I find Wand’s interpretation both visionary and magnetic in its effect. All the components are handled with the utmost care and control by Wand based on decades of experience. In addition Wand’s live 2001 Philharmonie, Munich interpretation with the Münchner Philharmoniker, very similar in approach, is also of elevated quality. Newly released Valery Gergiev and his Münchner Philharmoniker, using the 1878/80 version edited Nowak, are in quite excellent form creating a glorious sound with a formidably compelling live 2015 Philharmonie, Munich account on MPHIL. Worthy of admiration too is the live 2013 Heinz Hall, Pittsburgh recording performed by Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra under Manfred Honeck using the 1878/80 version edited Nowak. Impeccably paced and carefully shaped Honeck has created a magnificently inspiring Bruckner interpretation with glorious sound on Reference Recordings. Unquestionably one of the finest Bruckner recordings I have heard, the Staatskapelle Dresden under Christian Thielemann on such exceptional form is a match for any account on Profil.

Michael Cookson



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